NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Academic Scientists Withhold Data

February 8, 2002

A large portion of government research grants go to academics, who -- presumably -- are supposed to collaborate with colleagues for the benefit of mankind. Yet in daily practice, the ideal of collaboration is often breached, even when taxpayers fund the research, salaries of the researchers and/or the facilities in which it is conducted.

To analyze the degree to which academic scientists withhold data, a research team analyzed a sample of 1,240 self-identified geneticists and made a comparison with 600 self-identified nongeneticists involved in medical research.

  • Forty-seven percent of geneticists who asked other faculty for additional information, data or materials regarding published research reported that at least 1 of their requests had been denied in the preceding 3 years.
  • Ten percent of all post-publication requests for additional information were denied, and because they were denied access to data, 28 percent of geneticists reported that they had been unable to confirm published research.
  • Twelve percent said that in the previous 3 years, they had denied another academician's request for data concerning published results.

Among geneticists who said they had intentionally withheld data regarding their published work, most (80 percent) reported that it required too much effort to produce the materials or information. In addition, almost two-thirds (64 percent) reported that they were protecting the ability of a graduate student, postdoctoral fellow or junior faculty member to publish in the future. And slightly over half (53 percent) reported that they were protecting their own ability to publish research in the future.

Researchers say the free and open sharing of information, data and materials regarding published research is vital to the replication of published results, the efficient advancement of science and the education of students.

Source: Eric G. Campbell, et al., "Data Withholding in Academic Genetics," Journal of the American Medical Association, January 23/30, 2002.


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